When a work colleague sent a tweet to his 2000 followers comparing me to Nick Griffin I realised I was heading for my Jan Moir moment.
A few days before, I had written an opinion piece with the rather attention seeking headline Is global warming hot air? I’d wanted to see if my readers, who are mainly architects, agreed with the line now adopted by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) that ‘man made’ climate change is the greatest challenge facing the profession. Given that about 30% of them have lost their jobs in this recession and some of them will never work again, I wondered if RIBA might not have some more immediate issues to address.
The mainstream press is pretty tame when it comes to talking about climate change. The enormity of the problem and the mountain of research amassed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) has led us to a position where climate change cannot be challenged, except in the blogosphere where the debate has been raging for many years.
And even if the earth is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame there is still disagreement about how to tackle it. Privately, many architects question whether the emphasis on making all homes ‘ zero carbon’ by 2016 while the ignoring the carbon that’s produced during construction is really the best solution.
As rival magazines started to crank out the usual unquestioning pieces in the run up to Copenhagen, I wondered if all architects agreed with their institute ‘s line. I had recently talked to a scientist, now retired from the Met Office, who said he thought the emphasis on CO2 concentration was ‘misplaced’ and told me, off the record, that the Met’s new computerized climate models did not tally with the old models.
I wrote my weekly leader arguing the reason that so few architects had turned up to listen to the secretary of state for energy Hillary Benn talking at RIBA’s headquarters the week before might be because of ‘a weariness with a government that trots out the same line year after year — that climate change is predominantly man made — without allowing this claim to be challenged, despite the growing wealth of scientific evidence that it is not’.
I might as well have written that that Richard Rogers is a deluded clod and Prince Charles has been right all along. The reaction was swift and shocked. As the article richotted through cyberspace the UK Green Building Council, an organisation whose role I’d always found a mystery finally had a target. Me. Its chief executive was incandescent and wanted ‘ right of reply’ while its head of advocacy sent the first of many emails ticking me off for my bad behaviour. How could I be so out of touch with our elected public servants?
I went out for a lunch and received an email from the Guardian’s architecture correspondent, Jonathan Glancey. ‘ Well done questioning climate change orthodoxy’, presumably not a sentiment he can openly express when he’s in the office.
I should have known better than check my BlackBerry late on a Friday night when the bloggers, fortified by a few drinks, really get going. I soon realized that what I saw as provocative journalism had put me in the camp of the climate deniers- a sort of outer darkness from which you can only come back if you undergo ‘re-education’ and a public apology. Along with the anonymous RIBA member who said I should have the word ‘ bitch ‘ tattooed across my forehead, my critics said I was clearly mad, dangerous, and most likely in the pay of the petrol-chemical industries. ‘Calling for debate on this issue is like calling for debate on evolution. The debate is settled’ thundered one.
‘How impertinent, disobedient and ungrateful’, wrote another. All this dangerous thinking for myself and not doing as I’m told must stop immediately, was the general line of the eco-police. That night I dreamt about George Monbiot.
Back at work on Monday my web editor was drowning under emails. Martin Durkin, maker of the documentary The Great Climate Change Scandal and Piers Corbyn, the maverick weather forecaster. weighed into the debate from the sceptic camp. I stopped counting who supported me and who didn’t but I was convinced the sheer number of comments, from both sides, meant that the debate was not closed, as some claimed.
The Telegraph weighed in with a blog by James Delingpole calling me his ‘ heroine of the week’ for ‘daring to question the so-called “consensus” on Anthropogenic Global Warming’. Meanwhile, the Guardian had warned me via Twitter that it had me in its sights and I was to be the subject of a blog.
After the initial shock at seeing my picture by-line below and a claim that ‘I had laid bare my utter contempt for environmentalism’ I came to the conclusion that the journalists who work on the Guardian environment desk do my job for me. The people who flock to its web site to ‘hunt down the unbeliever’ make its cause look even less credible. They claim to argue from a scientific viewpoint but reject anything that conflicts with this regardless of its value. They are a vicious bunch that like nothing better than a good punch up. But what they hate with a passion is a journalist, like myself, entering the fray. How dare I.
But I did dare, and I have no regrets. It’s not particularly pleasant being attacked by colleagues, or having your opinions trashed by bloggers but that’s the territory you risk if you’re prepared to question the prevailing green orthodoxy. And if magazines and newspapers can’t be places where ideas are debated, criticised, analysed and gently tossed about without restraint, where is to be this debate to be had? In the University of East Anglia’s Climate Change Research Unit whose leaked emails has led to claims that the scientific community has fudged data and deliberately kept sceptics out of the peer review process? I think not.